So TV chef Anthony Bourdain recently committed suicide. As to “why,” there’s very seldom any understandable reason. I’ve seen a lot of Bourdain’s work, as my wife loved his No Reservations and Parts Unknown shows, and I got sucked into them as well. Then I ran across the YouTube series Raw Craft, which was about as commercial as Bourdain got. That was fascinating to me.
The thing about him that appealed to me was that he was very open about what he thought, but was open to pretty much everything. He listened.
Being an openly New York liberal, his basic beliefs conflicted with a large percentage of the U.S. population. As an example, in an interview he was asked what he would serve President Trump and Kim Jong Un if given the opportunity. His response: “Poison.”
Unsurprisingly, that offended a lot of people.
So for the first episode of his eleventh season of “Parts Unknown” he decided to forego the normal destinations like Uganda or Suriname and instead he went to someplace truly exotic and literally unknown: West Virginia. (Give that link a watch while it’s still available. It’s not quite an hour long.) From the show notes:
I guess for a long time I’ve been going to foreign locations like Iran, Liberia, Vietnam, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia where the culture and politics are very, very different than my own, and yet I try to go with an open mind and show some respect. And I like the idea of going to the heart of “Trump, God, and guns” country and looking at it in exactly the same way — with an open mind, as I’ve done elsewhere. It seemed only fair and only right.
I’ve gotta tell you, I was absolutely rocked back on my heels by, first of all, how beautiful it is, and how kind people were to me, and generous. I mean, in the same way that my preconceptions are upended so often around the world, I felt the same thing happening in West Virginia. In the stereotypical coal mining town in West Virginia — which is pretty much where we went, into the poorest area of West Virginia coal country — I was utterly moved and enchanted by the people and the place. And I like to think I came back from it with a more nuanced picture of what it means to be a coal miner, and why people voted for a sketchy businessman from New York who’s never changed a tire in his life.
You know, I went right at those things — guns, God, and Trump — and I was very moved by what I found there. I hope that people who watch the show will feel the same kind of empathy and respect, and will be able to walk in somebody else’s shoes, or imagine walking in somebody else’s shoes, for a few minutes in the same way that hopefully they do with one of my other shows.
Yesterday Rod Dreher posted a eulogy to Bourdain, A Tale of Two Tonys for The American Conservative. Give that a read as well. Dreher concluded his piece with something I cannot say any better than he did:
If you didn’t follow Bourdain’s work, I hope you will now. We lost a great American last week.